News of Kobe Bryant suffering yet another long-term injury will have a ripple effect throughout the Fantasy basketball universe. Fantasy owners who waited for Bryant's initial return hopefully had a contingency plan, as Bryant should have been viewed as found money; you probably drafted him late enough where your entire team wasn't banking on him carrying you immediately.
The repercussions of Bryant's injury in the Lakers' rotation are obvious; someone is going to have to score, and there is now a sizable Kobe-shaped playmaking hole in the team's offensive plans as well. Fantasy owners have responded about as expected, with three different Lakers landing in the top 12 most-added players for Week 9 (Dec. 23-29) -- Nick Young (+29 percent), Xavier Henry (+24 percent) and Jordan Farmar (+14 percent).
To start with Farmar, his appearance on the list is probably less a result of Bryant's status and more about his own recovery from a hamstring strain. Farmar was back on Christmas, and he will be the lone healthy point guard with any experience in this offense, thanks to lingering injuries to Steve Blake and Steve Nash. Farmar isn't a natural passer, but he was posting a 39.7 percent assist rate prior to his injury, by far the largest of his career. His 17.4 points and 8.4 assists per-36 minute average can be chalked up to The D'Antoni Effect, but as long as he is playing in that offense, he could be a starting caliber Fantasy option.
Henry and Young find themselves on the list because they are going to be asked to pick up ever more of the scoring load for the Lakers. Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks will also get their share of shots, but neither has shown much ability recently, whereas Young and Henry are thriving. Young is averaging an efficient 19.8 points on 13.4 field-goal attempts per game over the last five, while Henry is tossing in 12.2 points and 2.4 assists per game and has been mentioned by Mike D'Antoni as an option at point guard.
The Lakers' play a fast-paced style and don't have many players in defined roles right now, so any of these players could see his role diminish without much notice. For now, however, both are doing enough to warrant your interest on the waiver wires.
D.J. Augustin, G, Bulls: Augustin is one of those players you might just have to pick up off the waiver wire and never watch play. We're talking about a career sub-40.0-percent shooter who hasn't been a regular rotation player since 2011-12 -- when he shot 37.6 percent from the floor. Still, Augustin has been a useful Fantasy player in the past, specifically in 2010-11, when he averaged 14.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. Augustin probably isn't a very good NBA player, based on his track record. That doesn't matter much for Fantasy purposes, however. All he has to do is take advantage of his role as the Bulls' lone healthy point guard (Marquis Teague doesn't count), run a bunch of pick and rolls, and hit the occasional three, and Fantasy owners will be pleased with him off the waiver wires. Kirk Hinrich might be back sometime soon, but he has shown pretty clearly that he cannot stay healthy. And either way, the Bulls will likely continue using Augustin even when Hinrich is active; he might be able to step into the role Nate Robinson left vacant when he departed as a free agent this offseason. I am not particularly excited about the prospect, but Augustin is probably worth an add in 12-team or deeper leagues. (33 percent owned; +27 percent)
Andray Blatche, C, Nets: Blatche hasn't always played a big role for the Nets, but he has been a Fantasy contributor pretty much every time he has. Though he might take the (more than) occasional bad jump shot, Blatche is an incredibly skilled offensive big man, and his numbers back that up. Since joining the Nets, Blatche has played 25-plus minutes just 22 times, and has recorded double figures in scoring in all but one of those games. He is averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in those games as well. While that might be a bit more than should reasonably be expected moving forward, it is a clear indication of what Blatche is capable of. With Brook Lopez out, he should step into a significant role, and is probably a must-add option. (73 percent owned; +23 percent)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, G, Bucks: For all of his exciting potential, Antetokounmpo's production isn't quite there yet. That is to be expected for a player who just turned 19, but Fantasy owners don't get extra points for players on a learning curve. His numbers recently are merely solid; 9.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and a boatload of free throws. Antetokounmpo should develop into a solid all-around threat before long -- a Nicolas Batum type, if his shooting and playmaking develop -- but his upside might be a bit limited in the very near term. He is a must-add option in any keeper or dynasty league, but he isn't carrying enough of an offensive load to be worth a roster spot in a lot of 12-team or shallower leagues. (42 percent owned; +23 percent)
Brandan Wright, F, Mavericks: Given how maddeningly limited the Mavericks' cast of big men is, Fantasy owners have been very excited by the prospect of Wright's return. He is averaging just 21.8 minutes per game in four games since his return but is putting up 13.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in that time. Wright's skills are obvious -- he is long and bouncy -- and he has put up huge per-minute numbers for a big man in recent years. Unfortunately, he still has to earn coach Rick Carlisle's trust on both sides of the floor to fully live up to his potential. Wright has only played 25-plus minutes 38 times in his NBA career, though 16 of those games have come since the start of last season. He is averaging 12.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in those 16 games, numbers that could make him a useful low-end starting option at center. Given how decidedly mediocre Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair are, I like the prospect of adding Wright in a 12-team league on the chance he starts getting 25-plus minutes on a consistent basis. (43 percent owned; +22 percent)
Kosta Koufos, C, Grizzlies: The Grizzlies are starved for offense, so it doesn't come as some kind of terrible surprise to see them shying away from Koufos recently. As of Monday, he had not played more than 20 minutes in any of the team's last five games; his minutes have been taken by Jon Leuer (25.5 per game) and Ed Davis (20.1) in that span. Koufos is a limited offensive player, and isn't much more than slightly above average on defense, which makes the change in role understandable, given what Leuer and Davis bring to the table, respectively. Truthfully, Koufos' upside was never too high even in light of Marc Gasol's injury; his best five-game stretch as a starter saw him average 11.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Those are solid numbers, but also represent his absolute upside as a 30-minute per game player. As his role decreases, there is little reason to think Koufos is worth hanging on to. (46 percent owned; -24 percent)
Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Pelicans: Aminu's Fantasy value has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride in recent weeks, largely due to Anthony Davis' hand injury and subsequent recovery. I recommended adding Aminu, mostly for his rebounding ability, when Davis' injury occurred. However, given Davis' faster-than-expected recovery timetable, it is time to part ways with Aminu, whose limited offensive game makes him a pretty unappealing Fantasy option. He has scored in double figures just once over the last five games, and is averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in that span. Expect more of the same as long as the Pelicans remain at or near full strength. Aminu is utterly droppable in the majority of Fantasy leagues. 47 percent owned; -15 percent)
Taj Gibson, F, Bulls: Gibson's value took a dip following a three-game stretch that saw him score just 13 points total. Of course, in the next three games, he put up 45 points, which perfectly illustrates the problem with his Fantasy utility right now. He is very much a part of the Bulls' plans, but he is also a limited enough offensive player that he isn't going to be particularly consistent on a nightly basis. He is still averaging 13.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in the month of December, numbers that make him a borderline starting Fantasy option at forward. I would expect his ownership to continue fluctuating throughout the season, but he should probably remain worth owning in the shallower half of Fantasy leagues. (59 percent owned; -10 percent)
Flavors of Next Week
-- by Joe Polito (@JoePo89)
In this era of almost position-less basketball, two spots still matter above the rest: point guard and center. The former orchestrates the symphony, while the latter provides the power and percussion -- the backbone of the team. For now, the Lakers find themselves scrambling for a conductor without Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Steve Nash or Jordan Farmar, while the Nets will be without their bass drummer Brook Lopez for the remainder of the season.
Fantasy owners, especially those counting on the production of Bryant and Lopez, are now tasked with identifying which of the understudies will step up and get closest to the production of their predecessors. And as alarming as it sounds, the safest bet for Fantasy production is Nick Young.
You'll have to briefly discard everything you've come to know about Swaggy P to see it, but once you do it's clear that Young has been the most consistent Laker aside from Steve Blake. He plays 30 minutes a night, gets to the free throw line, hits threes and can eclipse the 20-point mark with the greatest of ease -- which he's done three times in his last four games. No Kobe and no point guard means Young will have the ball in his hands a lot. You won't start calling him Swagic Johnson (averaging 1.4 assists on the year), but if anyone's going to score without a central facilitator on the court, it's got to be P. At 68 percent owned, Young provides owners in 12-team leagues a chance to drop dead weight (Corey Brewer) or those lost in the shuffle (Harrison Barnes and Derrick Williams) and grab a piece of the no-Kobe/no-PG pie while it's still on the table.
Jodie Meeks/Xavier Henry, G/F, Lakers, (30/32 percent): It's pretty hard to market watered-down versions of Nick Young, but that's what I'll attempt to do right now. So if you missed out on Young or Farmar, you might be desperate enough to roll the dice on one of these two. In Meeks, you'll get a quick-firing, Marcus Thornton-esque shooting guard, who might end up with default assists from being the smallest, fastest guy on the court for L.A. In Henry, you'll get a taller, less accurate guard who is OK at everything, but good at nothing. Look, I know you're not excited, but the fact is the Lakers are one of six teams averaging at least 100 possessions per game. So somebody's got to get these stats. Both will score, so it will be the other categories that you'll be gambling on. These two aren't so much deep-league lottery tickets as they are dollar scratch offs. More like "Oh hey, look at that -- Henry went for 21, 4, 4 and 3 (12/20 vs MIN)" or "Meeks had back-to-back games with four assists (previous two)."
Kendall Marshall, G, Lakers, (5 percent): If you play in a league shallower than 14 teams, you can just skip this one. But if not, may I present to you deep leaguers an actual active point guard on the Lakers' roster. Sure, he had a less than stellar debut, finishing with negative one Fantasy point, but don't let that deter you if you have an open roster spot. Marshall is one of the few passing specialists left in the league, evidenced by his 9.6 assists per game in the D-league. I know you're scoffing at the level of competition those stats reflect, but have you seen the Eastern Conference lately? The 87ers might give the 76ers a run for their money. I've only added him to this list because if there was ever an opportunity for Marshall to succeed, it's running the D'antoni offense that allowed Chris Duhon to average 7.2 assists for a whole season in New York. He's still a wait and see, but this year it seems anything is possible on the Los Angeles island for misfit toys.
Mirza Teletovic/Mason Plumlee, F, (19/4 percent): Unless the Nets have a time machine for Kevin Garnett, one of these two will have to step up. They're also mainly for deeper leagues -- Plumlee more so than Teletovic. The real free agent prize in Brooklyn has already been written about in this piece, but with Blatche taking on more responsibility that means his previous role as active bench guy will need to be filled as well. Plumlee seems more suitable to fit the "does a lot with a little" mold that Blatche established off the bench. Like his brother Miles, Plumlee is a great athlete and can run and jump with just about anyone. Keep an eye on him as his minutes go up in Lopez's absence. Teletovic on the other hand, is a more traditional stretch four, and might be the best outside shooter on the team at this point. He's averaging 10 points per game in only 19 minutes over the last two weeks, so don't be surprised if he starts putting up solid numbers.